Yes, I reckon I might have found it. The perfect car. The 2CV isn’t it, or I wouldn’t bother owning other vehicles. The Land Rover isn’t it, because it’s rightly compromised by its great off-road ability. The Golf? Oh please. I never bought that thinking it was anything special! It continues to fill a gap on the fleet, get me where I want to be and be nowt more than a car. I like it for that very fact.
However, as is the natural way of things, I am considering what to get next. I’m in no rush. I actually fancy the idea of trying to scrape some pennies together so I can buy something nice rather than continue buying cheap rubbish. The Golf gives me some breathing space to work out what I want. Here’s the remit.
1) It must be properly classic. Preferably older than the 2CV (1986).
2) Rachel must enjoy driving it. That means no electric windows, no power steering, front-wheel drive and good visibility.
3) I must enjoy driving it! That means good handling, a good ride, a certain amount of quirkiness and stonking brakes.
4) It must be practical. Ability to carry passengers is important but a good loadspace is also essential.
That’s about it really. So far, I’ve really struggled to find something that meets all requirements. The BX got close, but I rather prefer the ones with power steering and Rachel doesn’t like it. I’ve owned several, enjoyed the benefits but at the moment feel I’ve ticked the BX box. Other cars have been woefully wide off the mark. Most fall down on the pre-1980 requirement, others have been packed full of fancy kit (Rover 75, Alfa 164) or been too big (pretty much anything larger than a BX, and even that’s pushing it). Finding comfortable small cars is a challenge – rather a large one funnily enough. Small cars don’t often ride well, but I really do like my comfort.
But help is at hand after a visit to the Citroen Car Club Midland Section Rally at the weekend.
Yes, the answer has been staring me in the face since eight years before I was born. The Citroen GS or later GSA. This is the forerunner to the BX and Citroen’s second attempt to plug the yawning chasm between 2CV and DS. The Ami was the first attempt, using a 2CV chassis and running gear and poshing it up a bit. It could hardly be described as a failure, but the world moved on and something a bit larger was needed.
1970 is often keenly remembered as the debut year of the Citroen SM. A Maserati V6 engine was clothed in a super-sleek body by Robert Opron and it remains one of the most glamorous (and complex) cars of all time. But Opron also penned the GS, launched the same year and it was the smaller car that took the Car of the Year plaudits for 1970.
And rightly so. In 1970, you could still buy a Morris Minor, yet here was a family car with sleek bodywork, clever hydropneumatic suspension and brakes that could detach your retinas. They were literally worlds apart. And don’t think I’m picking on Morris – Ford’s Escort still used cart spring rear suspension and had about as many fancy features as a paper bag. The Citroen was extraordinary – even though it came along a staggering 15 years after the similarly revolutionary DS.
No other car in its class would rise gracefully into the air when the engine was started, or stay perfectly level whether empty or full of passengers/luggage. Yet despite the clever suspension, the engine was a simple but well-designed aircooled flat-four based on the principles employed so well with the 2CV. The 1015cc engine produced 55bhp, but the little car could nudge 90mph.
Larger engines followed, up to an eventual 1299cc for the GSA, which took over from 1980. Now there was a hatchback, though both were available as capacious estates too. The GSA used an entirely wacky dashboard, with all controls within fingertip reach.
You even had the option of a clutchless, semi-automatic gearbox known as the C-Matic. This replaced the clutch with a torque converter – a trick seen on the remarkable NSU Ro80.
I find it hard to decide which of the many versions I’d like. Early GSs are beautiful things, but early estates are very rare and saloons are not as practical. A GSA probably makes more sense. Yes, the styling is less pleasing but they’re a lot more practical and while UK-market GSs were dumbed down with conventional dashboard dials, the GSA really was utterly bonkers inside.
For the early 1980s, that’s pretty wacky. Sorry to mention Morris again, but they were still churning out the Marina and later Ital, which was a glorified Morris Minor under the utterly conventional skin. Ford had only just accepted front-wheel drive.
So, I think a GSA could just be the perfect car. Quirky, fun, practical and acceptable to both myself and my wife. That’s the theory anyway. I’ve owned many, many cars where theory was shot down in flames. Could car number 60 actually be the right one?